International Students

Although they account for just five percent of all students in U.S. colleges and universities, international students play an important role in our economy. They gravitate towards the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, producing a large number of patents and gaining skills that help our employers innovate and compete. They spend tens of billions of dollars as consumers, supporting local businesses. And the companies they go on to found—such as Google, Yahoo!, and Trulia—employ hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.

Fueling the Economy

About 18.5 million foreign-born students study at American colleges and universities. In addition to their academic and cultural contributions, they support the economies of college communities through tuition payments and spending on housing, books, and other day-to-day expenses.1

1 “NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool | NAFSA,” accessed June 28, 2016. Available online.

Key Stats
890,677: Number of students in the country on temporary visas, 2014.
4.8 percent: Share of postsecondary student population overall made up of international students, 2014.
$32.8 billion: Economic revenue attributable to international students, 2015.
334,041: Jobs supported by international students, 2014.

Innovating for the Future

International STEM students and graduates are behind some of America’s most impressive innovations, from artificial skin to moldable metal. Studies show that immigrants with an advanced degree are three times more likely than U.S.-born graduate degree holders to file a patent.2 When universities increase their share of international students, they often receive more patents—boosting revenue and creating more opportunities for all students.

2 Jennifer Hunt and Marjolaine Gauthier-Loiselle, “How Much Does Immigration Boost Innovation?,” NBER Working Paper, (September 2008). Available online.
3 Chellaraj, Gnanaraj, Keith E. Maskus, and Aaditya Mattoo. 2005. “The Contribution of Skilled Immigration and International Graduate Students to US Innovation.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper (3588). Retrieved November 10, 2014. Available online.

Key Stats
76 percent: Share of patents awarded to the top 10 most productive research universities in 2011 that had at least one foreign-born inventor, 2011.
88: Number of unique countries of origin of the immigrants behind those patents.
$449.3 million: Licensure revenue earned by those schools, 2010.
6.8 percent: Estimated increase in the number of patents awarded to a university within seven years every time the number of foreign-born student rises by 10 percent.3
Share of Patents Awarded to Research Institutions with at Least One Foreign-Born Inventor, 2011
University of California System 76%
Stanford University 76%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 72%
University of Wisconsin- Madison 71%
University of Texas System 73%
California Institute of Technology 80%
University of Illinois System 90%
University of Michigan System 74%
Cornell University 65%
Georgia Institute of Technology 88%

From Graduates to Entrepreneurs

The inventions of foreign-born students often do more than just earn patents. They spawn start-ups and new divisions of companies that create jobs for American workers. Foreign-born students at American schools founded companies like Sun Microsystems (now a part of Oracle), Google, and Yahoo!.

4 Edward B. Roberts, Fiona Murray, and J. Daniel Kim, “Entrepreneurship and Innovation at MIT: Continuing Global Growth and Impact” (MIT Innovation Initiative, December 2015). Available online.
5 Vivek Wadhwa et al., “America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Part I,” SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, 2007). Available online.

Key Stats
2,340: Number of U.S.-based companies founded by foreign-born alumni of just one school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.4
100,000: Number of workers employed at those firms.
25 percent: Share of high-tech companies launched from 1995 to 2005 that were founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs, some of whom were students.5
450,000: Number of jobs created by those entrepreneurs.

Boosting State Economies

In 2015, the large number of international students in both New York and California generated close to $4 billion in revenue for each state. In eight states, foreign-born students generated revenues in excess of $1 billion—supporting tens of thousands of jobs.

States where International Students Make the Largest Economic Impact
State Number of International Postsecondary Students, 2014 Economic Revenue from Foreign Students Jobs Supported
California 116,586 $4.0B 45,402
New York 99,748 $3.5B 40,985
Massachusetts 46,589 $1.8B 24,375
Texas 66,384 $1.5B 18,903
Pennsylvania 41,134 $1.4B 20,309
Illinois 38,202 $1.2B 17,127
Florida 37,557 $1.2B 14,389
Michigan 31,814 $1.0B 13,448

Educating the Next Generation

Foreign-born professionals play a large role in educating American students. In 22 states, the occupation “postsecondary teacher” ranks among the top 10 jobs in which immigrants make up the largest share of workers. In six of those states, that role ranks among the top three jobs most heavily reliant on immigrants.

States with the Highest Share of Immigrant Postsecondary Teachers, 2014
State Foreign-Born Postsecondary Teachers Foreign-Born Share of all Postsecondary Teachers
Indiana 9,220 22.7%
West Virginia 1,767 19.7%
Ohio 12,621 18.4%
Missouri 6,289 16.5%
Alabama 3,934 16.2%
Mississippi 1,925 14.0%

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New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…